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On Writing



New Puck Daddy: I’m a big fan of the work Brendan Shanahan is doing for the NHL


In the wake of my Deadspin post, I haven’t really been sure what to think.

First and foremost, I’m happy about it.  Obviously it’s a great thing for my career, and the article was well received, if not in the comment section (if you know Deadspin, you know it really wasn’t all that bad in there), then as evidenced by the fact that it’s recieved some 23,000 views, 140 comments, and over 215 “likes” on facebook in the span of about 20 hours so far.  And the fact that it’s still in the site’s header with some of their bigger articles says something too.  I’ve always been a reader there, so it was great to have the chance to contribute.

On the other hand, I feel a little…”off” about something - not about my message in the piece, because I really do think Nabokov is being a clod (I’ve heard allll the arguments from people who disagree by now, points heard.  I still disagree, and that’s just the way this one is gonna go), but about two things:

One, the language, and two, for calling someone out with something I could probably never say to their face, whether I believe it to be true or not.  As one commentor noted, I’m usually more even-handed than that, but whatever, two doesn’t grind on me near as much.

The language thing is interesting though, because….I really do talk like that, unfortunately.

Blame it on the lifetime of growing up within the sport or whatever, but it’s a reality.  As much as I post cat pics, I really am a guy’s guy at the core.  I’m conscious of my mouth around people I don’t know well (also on TV and radio), and I can usually speak fairly intelligently and meet general public standards (still batting 100% in the “no cursing on tv/radio spots” thing).  But there are times when Bri and I will marvel at how quickly and casually I’ll use an eff-bomb with someone I just met.

Ripped from google image, but this is what the nice parts of the desert look like.

When we drove to Phoenix from Canada, we stopped outside a public bathroom that was in the middle of the desert and totally, totally desolate.  There was another car there though, and this guy probably ten years my senior was walking back to it.  I looked around and said to the guy “wow, we’re really in the middle of fucking nowhere, huh?”  The guy frowned, nodded, and carried on.

I was like Jim Carrey in the “I’ve had better” scene for the next ten minutes.  How the eff does that happen?  It’s totally unacceptable and I feel horrible, but I dunno…. I’m working on it.

Anyway, it was refreshing to get to write with that unquestioned green-light, to just let the words flow naturally as they occur in my head.  I’m clearly desensitized to the words, so for me, they’re just a part of the dialogue running around through my gray matter (again, unfortunately).

That said, after submitting that post, to some extent I felt like I let guys like Chris Jones and Bruce Arthur down.

I feel like the people I look up to when it comes to the written word would read my Deadspin post, tsk-tsk and shake their head and write me off for the lack of professionalism in my column.  They may have enjoyed it, but that’s beside the point.  I enjoy Family Guy, but I don’t consider it quality TV.

Jones - the man can make you cry when he writes about drywall.

And so, I’m in the midst of asking myself: who or what do I want to be when it comes to writing?  Drew Magary or Chris Jones, both of whom I enjoy and have found success?  Obviously I want to be “me,” but I’m still finding that.

And another part of me is asking: why the eff do you care so much what other people think?  But hey, truth is, I’m a sensitive guy when it comes to this crap.

I do aspire to write bigger, better things - I intend to write the type of pieces that make people feel something the way Jones’ so often do, but the reality is, that’s pretty hard to do when you write as often as I do, solely about hockey, and don’t leave the house to do so.

The response to the column was overwhelming positive – just check my twitter “@’s.”  I’d wager 90% of the people really liked it, I assume because it really is fun to occassionally read something that’s straight out of the dressing room or bar.

Still, I don’t want to lose any credibility in the process.

Deadspin, if anything, will actually gain me a measure of credibility; I’m aware of that.  And the next time they ask me to write something for them (which may not be for awhile, my agreement with Yahoo! advises I don’t spread myself too thin), I’ll write it the exact same way, partly because it is more “real,” if less beautiful.

But yeah, this is just me trying to hash out my feelings on it.  I do know that there’s one thing I don’t feel about the post, and that’s regret.


Oh, and let me clear one more thing up so I can link to this piece everytime I get the same comment:

I KNOW I never played in the NHL.  I know I wasn’t good enough to even be considered an AHL player.  I spent the majority of my time in the ECHL, and I was pretty decent there.  That was all.  But I never went to journalism school, and hockey was my education.

I'm proud to be a part of the Yahoo! family, consider myself lucky to be a part of it.

When outlets hire me to write, they hire me because I can write about behind closed doors, and they like when I can relate my own experiences to current events, because I can talk not only about what’s happening outside the eight-pound human head, but also inside.

When I write about My Career in every goddamn post, it’s a conscious effort to relate the insights in a way other writers can’t.  You have to carve your niche out, and for now, mine is fairly unique.

I’m not so proud of those playing years that I feel the need to exploit their awesomeness in every post, it’s just how I make my living.

And further: I’m also not jealous of anyone in the NHL, and I say that with sincerity.  I want part of my niche to be that I speak my honest opinion, meaning that if I think the Isles suck, I’m pointing it out for that reason and that reason only, not because I secretely wish I was on the team.  I’m extremely happy with my life with, Bri, cats, beer, palm trees, sweatpants and a flexible schedule, I assure you.

Anyway, that’s a little “the more you know” on me for my readers, who by the way, deserve muchos thanks for all the support, but most importantly, for being able to conduct legitimate, informative conversations in the comments section.

Everyone says they have “the best readers,” but I dare you to find me a site where the commentors show each other more respect.

So thanks for everything so far!

Both cats ADORE the smell of my gear. (Lost our rec league final btw, boo)


63 Responses to “On Writing”
  1. MIke says:

    Indoor voice, outdoor voice, mom-blog-reading voice, Deadspin voice. All good.

  2. “I probably am best at writing snark, but don’t want to do that to people all the time, so I’m going to have to find some happy medium between what I do well and what I actually want to do.”

    Why not? Your readership has grown since that first post so long ago. This is not my stop for rumor. This is not my stop for the hard-hitting expose on Juniors vs. NCAA. This IS my stop to hear from someone who, NHL be damned, was a PRO. You got PAID to play HOCKEY! You get PAID to write about HOCKEY! I think you are closer to your “true” self than you realize. Puck Daddy didn’t hire you to cover games and gather quotes. Deadspin didn’t call so you could relay some pics of Jiggs.

    It’s nice to see some other writers and editors on here giving some advice. Letting another prose-pro pick apart your work is half of how you get better. The other half? Write. And then write some more. And after that, keep writing. Not that I am one to hand out advice as a less-than-10-year employed writer myself, but one of my favorite things to do when I feel like I just puked on the page is to go back and read something from the past. I have all my work saved (or linked) on my computer, good and bad. Give a gander to something you did well, then find something you hated. Learning from others is a great way to see from afar, but learning how far you’ve come, and how good you can be, is better for your sanity.

    (Minnesotagirl71: We’ll just have to hound Bourne until he decides to do an on location meet-and-greet at Tom Reid’s.)

  3. BL says:

    Judging by the number of pieces you churn out each week I’d think your writing speaks for itself. I think the character/tone of your blog pieces is a great mix with the insight you’re able to provide.

    Also, count me as a ‘not far from the Cities’ reader. I think more pieces on college hockey and the WCHA would be great…but you played for Alaska so you probably don’t know anything about that stuff…ba dum dum….

    Keep up the good work.

  4. Dave K says:

    For what it’s worth, if I want foul-mouthed profanity, I’ll listen to some idiot on the radio. It is possible to be an effective writer without resorting to profanity. Quick side story, if one is inclined to read to much.

    I was in the Army with a fellow who wasn’t the brightest bulb in the junkyard. “Uh” and “Fu**”. So, being typical Army grunt jerks, we started counting how many times he’d drop the F-bomb in a single sentence. Luckily it was a counting game and not a beer-drinking game. The man would commonly go with every 2d or 3d word as he tried to articulate something as complicated as his lunch plans. Obviously he also wasn’t someone we respected for his intellect.

    I think that’s the point I’d make, that so many people simply tune out a profanity-laden message and instead of listening to what matters, they focus on the words. The chap in the Army could have been giving us the meaning of life, but throw enough F-bombs into the meaning of life and all one does is chuckle and laugh.

    Honestly, I hope you choose the non-profane writing school of thought. Good luck.

  5. Steve C. says:

    I think you’re at your best when you don’t “write to the audience”.

  6. Rob says:

    I wouldn’t worry too much about your language. It comes off as conversational, and as a writer myself, I’d say that’s a great compliment. The most important thing to me is to be conversational, and you didn’t sound like you were forcing the language for shock value at all. It’s also important to take the target audience into consideration. Obviously, talking like that on Deadspin is accepted and pretty common place so I’d say you were good.

    I don’t think it makes you less professional, but I think talking like that on Yahoo (if they even allow it) wouldn’t be the right forum.

    On a side note – when people criticize you for “only” playing in the ECHL they’re just hating. No matter what level you played at you’ve been able to offer awesome insight into the game. Also, I don’t think you try to make it seem like something you’re not. If you were an NHLer, you probably wouldn’t need to keep writing a blog – although it can be fun.

    Also, since I just gave you so much love – no homo haha.

  7. petshark says:

    Worrying about what people think is part of writing. If you don’t consider your audience you will not connect with them. If you don’t care about connecting with your audience, there’s really no reason to write. So, if you’re thinking about it, you’re probably doing okay:)

    I liked your article about Nabby, and for anyone to question the validity of your opinion because you were not in the NHL is sort of silly. Even Nabby hasn’t had the audacity to claim the working/living conditions on the Island are the issue-the worst conditions in the NHL are still pretty comfy by Everyman standards. NHL, AHL, ECHL, USPS, whatever, wherever, you sign up to do a job, you DO IT or face the consequences.

    And in the end, it really doesn’t matter how good Nabby is was or can be-if he refuses to play, he doesn’t deserve a spot on any team.

    I still think there is other stuff going on that would make this whole mess seem less insane, but whatever else is going on, there is no doubt that it has been grossly mismanaged.

  8. Lemme echo something St. Cloud Gopher said. I hardly ever make it a point to go back and read things I’ve written in the past, but it usually happens that I have to every now and then. It’s quite an exercise that can produce remarkable growth.

    Half the time, something I remember as being particularly well-written will strike me as total crap; the other half of the time, I’ll think, “damn, that was pretty good. Why don’t I write like that more often?” The difference between the two is where you’ll want to dwell and build on.

  9. Tom Curran says:

    You wrote that your experience put’s you in a unique position for writing about hockey. That experience was gained in an environment where the opposition were BLEEPing BLEEPsuckers, the coach was often a BLEEPing Son Of a Bitch and your fellow team members would be described this way as well(with creativity getting extra kudo’s from the boys!)
    So it seems to me that when we get a chance to read the goods on the behind the scenes of the game, it should sound like the real deal.
    If some people can’t digest that it’s because they are BLEEPing gaotBLEEPers who need to watch some BLEEPing WNBA!
    Seriously, there is a fine line between humorous f-bombing and down-right knuckle dragging, but having met you personally, I can assure your readers that a few choice words seem to work quite well with your sense of humor.
    So Fuck ‘em in the ear, I say!
    Keep up the great work J.T.
    P.S. your gear or the litter box! Poor Jiggs, and so young and unknowing!!

  10. liverning says:

    Justin, be true to yourself. Write how you want to write, about what you want to write about. That is the best way to find your ‘voice’. If you write something that you later regret, consider it a learning experience. The best way to learn is by making mistakes (or is it the easiest way?). Apologize, if you feel compelled to do so and move on.

    There is a reason why I and many others regularily read, and feel compelled to comment on your articles. You do it very well… I love your energy, your humor, your uniqueness (I could pick out one of your articles without knowing who wrote it) …

    I’m starting to get embarrassed about gushing over another man who isn’t my father…

    I too tire of reading the ‘only an ECHLer’ comments. But truly, thats their problem, not yours…

    Enough brown nosery… Get back to work… Gimme more articles…

    P.S. Sorry about the league loss…

  11. Simone says:

    I think Mike said it best, “Indoor voice, outdoor voice, mom-blog-reading voice, Deadspin voice. All good.”

    Growing up, we used to get the “none of that locker room talk!” from my father when one of us kids slipped a curse word at the dinner table. :-)
    When I moved from NY to New England, I struggled to stop using “effing” for an adjective and adopt “wicked”. It’s been a long, long time and I can still have problems with that.
    (sidebar – there is a town in NH called Effingham, and it’s right next to a town called Freedom. I tell people that means if you live in that area you’re ‘free’ to say ‘effing this’ and ‘effing that’ all you want.)

    Anywho, taking into account the audience and tailoring the delivery doesn’t mean you are not being true to yourself. There is a time and place for everything; choose the right voice for the most impact.

  12. my cat used my bag as a litter box for a month when i wasn’t playing cause i was out with a concussion. first practice back my equipment reeks of all too distinct cat piss smell. wore it anyways – pretty f’ing gross.

  13. crushasaurus says:

    Carving out a niche is something I’ve yet to do, mainly because I’m insanely petrified of doing anything well, getting known for it and then being locked into a writing identity before I’m 21. I don’t want to be a funny hockey blogger because that limits my credibility as a serious sports writer in the future, and I don’t want to be solely a serious writer because frankly, I’m not a journalist, I don’t have sources and I haven’t learned enough about the game yet to carry that with gusto.

    Your niche is properly unique. Sure, you get a plethora of ex-players-cum-analysts, but the difference between them and you is that you don’t talk shit and you don’t have terrible hair. It’s appreciated by many. One thing I want to see is a weekly X’s and O’s column, in which you dissect the week’s best/most interesting play. That would be sick.

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